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Must Love Numbers

17 September 2019

Barbara watched The Career Advice You Probably Didn’t Get, a TEDxBeaconStreet Talk by Susan Colantuono’s, and found information that hadn’t been emphasized in her other research on the topic of how women can advance—one reason women may not move from middle management to the higher levels is that no one is telling them they must understand the finances of their organizations. 

Tags: barbara read, barbara watched, ted, women and leadership

Women are told a list of things they need to be–more confident, more assertive, sometimes less assertive, great with customers, excellent communicators—and do—empower their teams, negotiate effectively, manage conflict.

But according to Coantouono, even though they need all those traits and skills, they are not told what will really help them move up. “Business, strategic, and financial acumen...is the missing 33 percent of the career success equation for women, not because it’s missing in our capabilities or abilities, but because it’s missing in the advice that we’re given.” Her TEDxBeaconStreet Talk is worth watching.

Women and men need to know how the organization makes money, how it will make more money, where it is losing money and what to do about it.

Coantouono’s used the term “business acumen” so many times that I Googled it. One comment I found on the CBAS funding site that I especially liked was—“Love Numbers. You really need to know your numbers and love them too in order for them to appear benevolent towards you.”

That was a jolting thought for me because I’ve not always had that attitude. I’ve thought I needed to tolerate them, learn about them, but not go so far as to love them, but then I remembered my mother did love them and never understood why I didn’t. She missed a plane when she was going to see my brother because she was listening for the flight number—not the name of the place. They had changed flight number and gate. When she told me about it, she said, “You know how I love numbers.”

Numbers had always made me a little anxious, but it got worse when I was a 15-year-old cashier in my daddy’s grocery store, and he embarrassed me in front of everyone. It was long before stores had bar codes. He would price some things 6 for 89 cents but people would sometimes buy only two, and I was supposed to quickly figure out that they were 15 cents each. When I hesitated, he said, “All that fancy math you are taking and you can’t do simple arithmetic.” I can still feel the burn of the blush if I think about it. In many ways my daddy was the greatest feminist I ever knew, but in this instance he fell into the trap of making a young girl fearful of numbers.

I had to overcome that sensation. I ran a certification program for my company for many years, and my boss demanded that I know exactly how many participants I needed for us to show the expected profit. At first I had trouble reading the financial statements, but I knew I better learn how quickly if I wanted to keep my position.

As I've gotten older, I've realized the need to understand numbers never ends. When I took over managing the finances for my mother when she began to lose her memory, I learned things I hadn’t understood before. She taught accounting and other business courses, and I was nervous when my first step was to balance her checkbook in front of her even though I’d never had any trouble balancing my own. My financial education was even more fine tuned the year I spent settling her estate.

Over time, I’ve come to appreciate numbers and have pride that I can handle them, but my next goal is to find a way to fall in love with them. I’ll also be helping the men and women I coach and mentor to figure out how to find their love of numbers, too.

Can you read and understand the financial statements of your organization and make suggestions for the next best step to take?


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